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Review of Werk Out! Music and Arts Festival

Sept. 20th-23rd,  2012 – Legend Valley, Thornville, OH

Written By:  Ryan Neeley

Edited By:  Rosemary A.W. Roberts, www.jamsplus.com

Exclusively for JamsPlus Media and Mark Loveless Photography


For many years, fans of the Grateful Dead believed that they could control the weather.  Those in attendance at the 3rd annual WerkOut Festival at Legends Valley over the weekend can add another band to that list – Dayton, OH “livetronica” supergroup The Werks.   Held in Thornville, OH the past weekend, formerly Buckeye Lake, hallowed site of numerous Grateful Dead shows in the late 80’s and early 90’s (including my first show), the Werks put on a festival that had a family-like atmosphere and was pleasing to all five senses.   With dozens of artwork installations, performances by fire jugglers, stilt walkers and hula-hoopers, every corner you turned held a visual treat.  Vendors provided food choices that would satisfy meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike, with the scent of Disc-O pizza, French fries, Barbecue and Veggie Stir Fry drifting through the air.   Each person you met held out a hand, pulled you in for a hug or let you pet their therapy goat.   And then there’s the music… And what a show it was.

Festival organizers Alchemy House and Funky Bean Productions did a fantastic job weaving the lineup into a weekend filled with a little bit of something for everyone in a way that was smooth and seamless, something that can be quite difficult with the recent marriage of dubstep/electronic music with guitar-rich jambands on the festival circuit.  The weekend included livetronica legends Papadosio, EOTO and LOTUS with newer groups like Break Science and Zoogma rounding out the lineup for dubstep fans.   Livetronica, sometimes called trance fusion, is a genre of the electronic movement that combines sequencers and synthesizers with guitars and drums, typical rock and roll instruments.   Made popular by The New Deal and Disco Biscuits in the late 90’s, it has evolved and inspired numerous artists to step into this experimental world.   Not forgetting fans of extended psychedelic guitar licks and bluegrass picking, jam vets Ekoostik Hookah and Rusted Root, Muncie, IN group Glowstick Willy and bluegrass powerhouse Greensky Bluegrass would delight the most ardent fans of traditional rock.

Thursday evening started with Colorado 3-piece pH Factor, who have been getting a lot of buzz from touring with Papadosio and Ultraviolet Hippopotamus.  They brought the energy, and had a jazz-fusion sound that was refreshingly different.  Aliver Hall, Dirtfoot, and Cosby Sweater kept reeling the crowd in, and by 8pm, the gravel lot in front of the stage was filled with wide-eyed festivarians hungry for a dose of jamtronica.   And Papadosio delivered in typical fashion, wowing the crowd with driving beats, harmonic melodies and an amazing visual show that would blur the gap between perception and reality.  Dr. Fameous kept the crowd entertained before the first of three performances by The Werks.  The band came out and the masses let out a roar of anticipation, and the band would not let anyone down, roaring into “Sweet Content” and a jamming “Burning Groove”.  Guitarist/Vocalist Chris Houser flexed his musical muscles, shredding during the “Moetry in Potion>Moby Dick>Moetry in Potion” montage.   Keyboardist Norman Dimitrouleas pounded on the keys with precision and skill, reflecting his background in classical music while adding just enough funk to liven things up; bassist Dino Dimitrouleas held down an impressive percussion section, popping and slapping his bass; and Rob Chafin beat up the drum set like Muhammed Ali whooping up Sonny Liston.   But the highlights of the night were a surprising Phish cover, “Slave to the Traffic Light”, with the crowd swooning along, and Papadosio joining the Werks on stage for some WERKADOSIO, performing “G-Funk” with Nick Gerlach of the Twin Cats on saxophone for the encore.

Friday would begin at noon with Subterranean House Band laying down the funk, followed by Soul Rebels, Magic Jackson, Roster McCabe, Funktion, The Macpodz and Strange Arrangement.   Michigan-bred quintet Greensky Bluegrass, the only bluegrass band on the bill, fit in nicely and impressed the crowd with their improvisational style and down-home vibe, reflecting the fact that they play 175+ shows a year and have been constantly touring for the past 11 years.   Kung Fu came up next before EOTO took the stage.   String Cheese Incident  drummers Jason Hann and Michael Travis make up this duo, combining the party vibe of a DJ set with thudding bass and drumbeats that reverberate through your body, all done on the fly without a script to the background of an amazing lighting show.   The Twin Cats came up after EOTO, a difficult spot sandwiched in between them and the WERKS, and delivered a tight set. 

Night two of the Werks weekend would be another one for the memory bank, with a number of guest performances and special guests.  They came out to a funky and effective “Onslaught>Cruel Stone Blues” and debuted a new song, “Music”, with Tim Palmieri on guitar and Rob Somerville on Sax, both of the band KUNG FU.   Former member Aaron Armstrong, from the Boogie Matrix band, would join the Werks on percussion for a driving “Hard to Find>Drums>Hard to Find” jam session.   But many would argue that the highlight of Friday evening was when drummer Rob Chafin came out dressed as an 80’s rocker for the Europe cover “The Final Countdown” and absolutely NAILED it, with SCI’s Jason Hann taking his place on drums and Todd Stoops of Kung Fu Panda joining Dimitrouleas on keys.   The energy running through the place was absolutely electric, and everywhere you looked there was a smile.    Ending the night was Matt Butler conducting the Werks with all their special guests as “The Everyone Orchestra”, a set of completely improvisational music with the conductor writing directions to the band and crowd on a dry erase board.  “Everyone” seemed to enjoy being part of this special night. And for those not ready (or able) to sleep, there were three other stages keeping the crowd raging till dawn.

Saturday would be the most challenging for the crew, organizers, patrons, and vendors at the festival.   A windstorm and period showers came through Legends Valley and toppled some tents.   At one point, a large storm  cell heading straight for the venue threatened to delay or cancel some of the performances; but somehow it turned north at the last minute, just misting the crowd, then barreled into Columbus, which is 20 miles west, and took out power to almost half the residences.  “This is how good of people the Werks are,” proclaimed Todd Stoops, keyboardist for the band Kung Fu.  “I was in the production trailer with the stage manager and there was a storm cell heading straight for the site.   It turned right before it got to us, went 20 miles north, and then turned and just missed us.   Now that’s KARMA.”

The lineup and venue did not go unscathed, though, with power going out during Rusted Root’s performance, so they went acoustic and used the stage as an instrument, banging on the scaffolding; and Elemental Groove Theory had their performance cut short due to issues with power and the stage.   However, it could have been much worse.   Saturday included Maryland funkmasters Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, whose bass player Ben Carrey stated in an interview with Jams Plus Media, “if anyone can stand still for the whole set, I have 20 bucks for them.”   And those that caught this early afternoon set were definitely not standing in one place with their arms crossed.  The Heavy Pets and Glowstick Willy led into Rusted Root, who have now been together for over 20 years and played a number of favorites including hits “Send me on my Way”, “Ecstasy” and “Back to the Earth” and brought a young girl with an “I Love Rusted Root” sign on stage to play the tambourine and sing backup.  As stated earlier, the Elemental Groove Theory set did not happen, and they promised to put on a show that night at their tent.   The electricians got the generator in place and running and the Ekoostik Hookah set was delayed a little, but these veterans didn’t let that bother them, putting on a romping set with keyboardist/vocalist Dave Katz delivering sweet vocals and guitarist Steve Sweeney shredding on his axe.   20 years and they’re still holding it down in the state of Ohio.   Livetronica newcomers ZOOGMA hit us with a beat-driven dance party, followed by instrumental dance-rock quartet Lotus, who had the crowd in a frenzy with hard beats, soaring guitars and electronic textures and a fantastic light show.

The third and final performance of the Werks was described as being “epic” by festival-goer Cris Gonzalez of State College, PA.    Starting off with crowd-favorite “OG”, they jumped into a marathon jam session of “Cloudhopper>Rollin>Duck Farm>Rollin” with Space Panda joining them on keys for the first “Rollin”.   Watching the band interact with Space Panda was comical, but if you paid attention, you noticed that Space Panda can really rip on the keys!  Up next was an amazing “Better Half > Beatles tune We Can Werk It Out > Better Half”, which had the crowd calling for the band to play all night.    Danny Sauers of Subterranean House Band came out on sax for a jovial “Fall”, another highlight of this memorable evening, and the encores were very fitting – covering Grand Funk Railroad’s “American Band” and “Heading South”, in a nod to the band heading out for their first large-scale tour the following week.

The staff of volunteer “farmhands”, artists, vendors and performers transformed the site into a smorgasbord of art, food, culture, music, with a bit of shopping.  The entire production was both eclectic and interesting, and although it was a little cold and wet, the word MAGICAL came up numerous time when discussing the weekend.   “This was a perfect way for Ohio to send the Werks out into the country on their first major tour across the US,” festival patron by the name of ‘Tour Bus’ stated, “Plus they killed it this weekend.”    I couldn’t agree more and believe that maybe, just maybe, the vibe and good feelings of the thousands of fans, artists, performers and workers who congregated at Legend Valley this weekend veered the thunderstorm off course, creating a little “magic” of our own, just like the good ol’ Grateful Dead did there 20 years before.


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